September 30, 2006


Detainee Bill Shifts Power to President (SCOTT SHANE and ADAM LIPTAK, 9/30/06, NY Times)

With the final passage through Congress of the detainee treatment bill, President Bush on Friday achieved a signal victory, shoring up with legislation his determined conduct of the campaign against terrorism in the face of challenges from critics and the courts.

Rather than reining in the formidable presidential powers Mr. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney have asserted since Sept. 11, 2001, the law gives some of those powers a solid statutory foundation. In effect it allows the president to identify enemies, imprison them indefinitely and interrogate them — albeit with a ban on the harshest treatment — beyond the reach of the full court reviews traditionally afforded criminal defendants and ordinary prisoners.

Taken as a whole, the law will give the president more power over terrorism suspects than he had before the Supreme Court decision this summer in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld that undercut more than four years of White House policy.

The recognition by the legislative branch that the executive has inherent constitutional powers is not actually a shift in said power.

Pirates of the Mediterranean (ROBERT HARRIS, 9/30/06, NY Times)

IN the autumn of 68 B.C. the world’s only military superpower was dealt a profound psychological blow by a daring terrorist attack on its very heart. Rome’s port at Ostia was set on fire, the consular war fleet destroyed, and two prominent senators, together with their bodyguards and staff, kidnapped.

The incident, dramatic though it was, has not attracted much attention from modern historians. But history is mutable. An event that was merely a footnote five years ago has now, in our post-9/11 world, assumed a fresh and ominous significance. For in the panicky aftermath of the attack, the Roman people made decisions that set them on the path to the destruction of their Constitution, their democracy and their liberty. One cannot help wondering if history is repeating itself. [...]

Those of us who are not Americans can only look on in wonder at the similar ease with which the ancient rights and liberties of the individual are being surrendered in the United States in the wake of 9/11. The vote by the Senate on Thursday to suspend the right of habeas corpus for terrorism detainees, denying them their right to challenge their detention in court; the careful wording about torture, which forbids only the inducement of “serious” physical and mental suffering to obtain information; the admissibility of evidence obtained in the United States without a search warrant; the licensing of the president to declare a legal resident of the United States an enemy combatant — all this represents an historic shift in the balance of power between the citizen and the executive.

A dude's gotta move merchandise and Mr. Harris has a new book out, but it's a shame to see a normally sensible conservative make such an inane argument. The violence he has to do there to the term citizen would appall any Roman republican.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 30, 2006 9:32 AM

Although the First Triumvirate (Cato's gift to the Republic) is the usual line of demarcation, if you ignore the slaughter of the Gracchi and Marius' reorganization of the army and Sulla's rewriting of the constitution at swordpoint and the fact that Pompey voluntarily laid down his command after his settlement of the east, the campaign against the pirates is as good a point as any to date the death of Roman liberty.

Posted by: carl at September 30, 2006 11:04 AM

The better historical parallel was how the battles
against Jugurtha and later Mithridates (Al Queda,
Iraq, and possibly the Iranian juggernaut, created
a class of military, independent from military authority, thus the rise of figures like Marius
and Sulla, later Pompey and Caesar. The die was cast when Marius appropriated the mass of the Roman army to himself, leaving Sulla with the rest, then came the Social War (which concerned itself with the consequences of Roman immigration policy) Sulla's proscriptions, the rise of Servetius, then the first Triumvirates arose,
then the Pirates, Catiline, and the rest. I
suggest McCain as Marius, with Sulla to be named

Posted by: narciso at September 30, 2006 11:31 AM

Only as sunny an optimist as OJ could deny the parallels between Roman times and the current place of the US in world configuration.

Though it is easy to argue the various connections, as others do above, it is the general parallels that should give us pause.

As most good conservatives agree, there is nothing new under the sun, and the idea that history repeats itself is hard to deny.

This is not to say OJs optimism is entirely misplaced. Times are indeed different, and the US has proven itself to be more dynamic and adaptive than the Greeks, Romans, & British.

Human nature hasn't changed though, so the issues are basically the same. To much variation (reform) from the norm and the center fails to hold, to little variation, and the center gets ossified, timid, and atrophies.

There are plenty of good things happening out there, but adding layers of bureaucracies over every problem (DHS, TSA etc.) indicate that we aren't out of the woods.

Just look at Katrina. Billions appropriated to shore up levies wasted and misused, tens of 1000s of citizens relying on the empire to save them, and billions wasted in the aftermath, fixing essentially nothing.

Whether looking to the past (Rome) or the Future (Asimov's Foundation), identifying rot in our civilization isn't that difficult. Neither is it hard to predict (with in a margin of error) the rate, and level of decline.

Posted by: Bruno at September 30, 2006 11:59 AM

What exactly are the parallels Bruno, b/c as Carl and Narciso have pointed out, this piece is laughable.

Rome was already in deep doodoo by 68, what with the example of the Gracchi, Marius, Sulla, etc. I mean Sulla was dictator for 3 bleedin years. How do you ignore that?

Also kind of ridiculous to argue that historians have ignored Pompey's imperium in the Mediterranean to fight the pirates.

And of course, considering that it took him what, a year or two at most to utterly destroy the pirates, maybe we ought to be more like the Romans, and not less.

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at September 30, 2006 1:32 PM

I know about the Roman empire, but remind again please, where is the American empire?

Posted by: erp at September 30, 2006 2:37 PM

"traditionally afforded criminal defendants and ordinary prisoners" Uh, but terrorist suspects are not ordinary criminals.

Do you know how the Romans took care of their foreign enemies? They either lined them up on pikes along the Appian Way, or made them gladiators fighting each other to their miserable deaths, or made them slaves chained to the lowest decks paddling the Roman galleons...
Our senate may be as worthless as the Roman senate, but we ain't no Romans.

Btw, has any one of NYT's columnists read the bill?

Posted by: ic at September 30, 2006 2:55 PM

Erp: We can put B-2's over any city in the world in half a day, and submarine-launched ballistic missles in a quarter-hour. A Roman army took weeks to cross their measely European empire. Information technology makes our cultural domination greater than anything the Romans dreamt of.

Did I tell you about the aircraft carriers?

Posted by: Lou Gots at September 30, 2006 2:55 PM


Except that your anger is at the Center for holding. It is the far Right and the left that are deranged right now.

Posted by: oj at September 30, 2006 2:59 PM

Never have so many smart people missed the point. Trying to draw DIRECT parallels IS silly.

One argument is whether or not we are an "Empire." I submit that we are, though different from past empires. History dictates that empires fall, unless of course, the fact that we are "different" creates an exception in our case.

OJ comes closest to the mark. It is my view that "the center" is also a bit "deranged" and that, being the center, has no rational reference point by which to right itself.

OJ should revisit his favorites. "Goliath" is always the center, and "David" nearly always appears "deranged."

Posted by: Bruno at September 30, 2006 3:37 PM

Ah, the old, I'm sane the rest of you are crazy argument....

Posted by: oj at September 30, 2006 4:56 PM

Who was it that said: "Fascism is always falling on America, but for some reason always lands in Europe".

Hegemon not Empire.

As far as an erosion of civil liberties... it's not really possible to any great extent in the U.S. since certain important rights are unalienable... unlike in Europe where the governments decide what rights will be granted to citizens.

Posted by: lebeaux at September 30, 2006 6:47 PM


The satellites, don't forget all the satellites.

And the Predators flown by guys in Tampa (and who knows where else).

But we can all recognize erp's (and ic's) point - we don't conquer so much as we absorb.

Posted by: ratbert at September 30, 2006 9:59 PM

ratbert: So we're the Borg?

Posted by: Buttercup at September 30, 2006 11:00 PM

A Borg in which almost everyone seems wants to join voluntarily. The only people clamoring to be left out are the native Leftists, the French, and their Jihadist allies.

But that does prove the point. The modern American Republic, like the ancient Roman Republic, is unlike any previous imperial power ever seen (before or since). Which is why the two will not travel the same path, and beyond crude but entertaining comparisons, efforts to equate the two show a lack of understanding.

For one thing, we do have history to show us some mistakes to avoid, event hough it seems that our intellectual class is determined to ignore or repeat them.

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at October 1, 2006 1:34 AM

The Roman Empire, at least in the beginning, was held together largely for the same reasons and in the same way ours is. The Republican Romans much preferred that the provinces rule themselves as much as possible. The culture spread because everyone dug it.

Posted by: Pepys at October 1, 2006 2:13 AM

Lou, I do know about the aircraft carriers and other weapons tallying into the millions, but the essential thing is, we don't use them for our own gain.

The only thing Colin Powell ever said that didn't make me cringe, was "We have gone forth from our shores repeatedly over the last hundred years and we’ve done this as recently as the last year in Afghanistan and put wonderful young men and women at risk, many of whom have lost their lives, and we have asked for nothing except enough ground to bury them in, and otherwise we have returned home to seek our own, you know, to seek our own lives in peace, to live our own lives in peace. ... "

The Roman Empire fell because Romans ceased to look for the good to their own society and allowed itself to get weak and then fell prey to the barbarians circling them like carrion eaters circling a dying beast.

Posted by: erp at October 1, 2006 11:22 AM

Roman liberty was upheld by free citizens who were economically self-sufficient, just as Greek democracy was. The Legionnaire was not a professional soldier, but a citizen soldier who could afford his own weapons.

The origins of the end of Roman liberty lie in the Second Punic War when Hannibal laid waste to most of Italy outside Rome. When the war was over, the veterans came back to ruined farms and livelihoods. They either became impoverished or became indebted. In either case, they became dependent on ambitious Senators who promised wealth from foreign booty if they served in their legions.

Once Roman legions became private armies, as opposed to serving the Senate, public power was exercised for private benefit. Predictably, the generals used what they learned fighting Rome's enemies to control the Republic. Thus Sulla, Marius, Pompey and Caesar.

The problem was not solved until Augustus. After he defeated his last rival, he cleverly made sure most of the treasury went to him and he paid the army all by himself. It ended the civil wars, but did nothing to make Roman citizenry economically self-sufficient again.

We will know American liberty is in danger when the middle class begins to shrink (which is why the most dangerous time was the Great Depression.) I'm more worried by the pernicious effects of the bankruptcy "reform" than I am by the Patriot Act.

Posted by: Chris Durnell at October 2, 2006 1:10 PM

not that old canard about the fragile Republic at the time of the Depression....

Posted by: oj at October 2, 2006 1:17 PM